Taking time away (whether you’re married or a single parent) makes you a better parent. You need time in your life with no kids and no kid demands. You need to focus on you and your interests, have time out with friend, develop your own passions and do things that make you happy. If you don’t, you may resent your kids or be impatient with them when they do need you. And you won’t have the energy to answer endless questions, help with difficult homework, or play with your kids if you don’t take time for you.
If you can no longer speak except in nursery rhymes, or if the highlight of your day is watching Clifford the Big Red Dog on PBS, I’m talking to you. But I’m also talking to parents who have older kids. You need to prioritize adult time in order to be a good parent. It’s ok to say no to your older kids when they want to join one more team or have one more night out with friends and say, “Not tonight. Tonight it’s my turn.”
Kids are like sponges; they’ll absorb every moment of you they can get. But they’re also resilient and capable of surviving time without you. From the time your kids are young, find a babysitter and get out regularly. Have date night with your partner or a night out with your friends. Don’t spend your time out talking about the kids; dig in and remember who you are besides a mom or dad.
Leaving your kids to do things for yourself may seem counter-intuitive to being a good parent, but it’s not. It shows your kids the perfect example of self-care. They need to know as they grow up and begin to have relationships that it’s ok to still pursue their own interests and fulfill their own needs. How will they learn that from you if you sacrifice everything you are?
When my husband and I first married and I inherited his three kids, we intuitively realized that time away was crucial – for us, to build our relationship and for them, because it made us better parents. Fast forward ten years and add two kids. For a while, we enjoyed built-in babysitters, but then the older kids started having the audacity to do things like get jobs, join cheer teams, and eventually head move away. I still do not wish I had no kids, but oh how I wish I had the built-in babysitter of years past.
It’s more difficult for us now to maintain that priority of me-time and us-time, but it’s more important than ever. We want our kids to grow up to be healthy, balanced adults…and when we are with them, we want to have the energy to be fully engaged and present. That can only happen when we take the time to take care of ourselves, too – no excuses allowed.